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Full text of "West Roxbury"

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Bellevue Tower, West Roxbury,- Mass. 




Henry Adams, the nineteenth cen- 
tury philosopher, said that the history 
of America is not the history of the 
few, but the history of the many. The 
people of Boston's neighborhoods have 
accepted the challenge of Adam's 
statement to produce "people's his- 
tories" of their own communities. 
Hundreds of Bostonians formed com- 
mittees in each of fifteen neighborhoods 
of the city, volunteering their time over 
the past year and a half to research 
in libraries, search for photographs, 
produce questionnaires, transcribe 
tapes, assist in writing and editing, and 
most important, act as interviewers 
and subjects of "oral history" research. 
These booklets are not traditional 
textbook histories, and we have not at- 
tempted to cull a statistical sample. 
We have simply talked with our 
neighbors, people who remember, 
sometimes with fondness, sometimes 
with regret, but always with wisdom. 
For each of us has his or her own 
story to tell, and these stories are vital 
to the development of our neighbor- 
hoods and our city. 

© 1976, The Boston 200 Corporation 
Boston 200 is the city's official program 
f to observe the Bicentennial of the 
American Revolution from April igjs 
through December igj6. 

Kevin H. White, Mayor 
Katharine D. Kane, 

President, The Boston 200 Corporation 
1 Beacon Street 
Boston, Massachusetts 02108 
6i7-338-i775 

BOSTON PUBLIC LIBRARY 



WES T RO XBURT 



Sociologists would admit that West Rox- 

bury is an ideal community," Max Grossman, a local 
writer, wrote in the 1930's. "It has few persons who are 
terribly rich; just a few who are awfully poor. The 
movie people would pick out West Roxbury as a typi- 
cal American hometown." For 150 years, West Rox- 
bury has been a place where Bostonians have sought 
the good life, a place to raise their families and build a 
home away from the hectic chaos of city life, yet acces- 
sible to the financial and cultural advantages of the 
city. 

The cataclysmic origins of the land that was to be- 
come West Roxbury contrast with the peaceful aspira- 
tions of its later settlers. Geologists believe that a half- 
billion years ago, a volcano pushed its way up from un- 
der the sea, spouting lava high in the air near what is 
today the junction of Washington and Grove streets. 
After the volcano died, and the sea receded, glaciers 
covered the land. The deposits of boulder clay left by 
the ice as it melted became the "drumlins," or hills, of 
West Roxbury, including Bellevue Hill — the highest 
point in Boston. Huge cakes of ice were left behind as 
the ice age ended, settling in sand depressions in the 

front cover: Mount Vernon School, February i8gj 
inside cover: The old Bellevue Tower, c. i8go 



ground and becoming bodies of water like Jamaica 
Pond. 

The Charles River wound its way around the gla- 
cial deposits, leaving a lush and verdant plain for the 
Puritans who eventually settled the area. Present day 
West Roxbury, along with Jamaica Plain and Roslin- 
dale, was originally part of the settlement of Roxbury. 
Although the earliest records of the Roxbury area were 
destroyed in a fire in 1645, a few surviving sources — 
such as the lists in Francis Drake's History of Roxbury 
and the records of burials in cemeteries like "old West- 
erly" on Centre Street near La Grange Street — give us 
a fairly good picture of the people who lived in West 
Roxbury between 1640 and 1710. 

It was in 1643 that Joseph Weld, one of the first 
settlers of Roxbury, was granted a large tract of land 
by the Massachusetts Bay Colony. The Weld farm ran 
from Forest Hills out to Brookline, and included the 
present Larz Anderson estate. Weld received the grant 
as a gesture of gratitude for his service in striking a 
treaty with the Pequod Indians. By 1652 there were 
120 houses in all of Roxbury, most of them in the east- 
ern end of town, near what is now Eliot Square. A few 

1 



settlers had, however, pushed their way out from the 
parent town, to join Weld seeking the more open land 
and accepting the isolation from the town center. By 
1706, about 45 families had settled in the territory 
west of Jamaica Pond, and had established enough in- 
dependence to seek separation from the mother parish 
in Roxbury's center. In that year, Joseph Weld and 44 
others filed a petition with the Great and General 
Court asking for a separate parish and separate meet- 
ing house. They stated in their petition that they lived 
"at the west end of Roxbury, toward Dedham" — so far 
away from the First Church in Roxbury, in fact, that 
they were unable to attend in bad weather. Nothing 
came of the petition, but the families went ahead and 
erected a meeting house of their own, and formed a 
congregation. 

Apparently the action did not too greatly anger the 
General Court, for in 1 7 1 1 , when the settlers again 
sought permission to become their own official parish, 
they were successful. In 171 2, their meeting house on 
what is now Walter Street was named the Second 
Church of Christ in Roxbury, and was generally re- 
ferred to as the second, or upper parish. 

Until West Roxbury was formally incorporated, 
the entire area from Jamaica Plain to Dedham was 
known as Jamaica End, or Spring Street. Almost every 
resident of the district was a farmer, except for the 
blacksmiths and other tradesmen needed by an agri- 
cultural community. A section known as West Rox- 
bury Village extended from Roslindale — then called 
South Street — for two miles to the Dedham line. Most 
of the houses were on the main street, the Dedham 
Post Road (now Center Street). A few side roads ex- 
isted mainly to provide access to farms. 

The disagreements between the central town of 
Roxbury and its outlying western district were at first 
largely economic. While the First Church refused to 
give financial help to its daughter parish, the Second 
Church, it nevertheless collected precinct taxes from 



the newer congregation. This inequity in the division of 
taxes was exacerbated by the sale of the town's public 
wood and the division of the profits. The citizens of the 
western portion of the town felt that the First Church 
derived most of the benefits from these policies, and 
few of the burdens. 

The economic tug-of-war became a secondary con- 
cern during the Revolutionary War period, but it 
would resurface later. During the war years, financial 
squabbles were set aside. Weld Hill, part of the large 
tract of land originally granted to Joseph Weld, was 
chosen by George Washington as a rallying point for 
his army during the Revolution. The names of West 
Roxbury soldiers are found on records from Ticonder- 
oga and Dorchester Heights, to Lexington and Bunker 
Hill. Companies from the town of Old Roxbury saw 
action at Lexington, Concord, and Bunker Hill. Three 
West Roxbury men led these companies into battle: 
Captain William Draper, who lived in the old Draper 
House on Center Street; Captain Whiting, who kept a 
tavern near what is now the corner of Spring and Cen- 
ter streets; and Captain Lemuel Child. 

Prior to the war years, Captain Child had already 
gained a reputation as the proprietor of the Peacock 
Tavern, located at the corner of what is now Centre 
and Allendale streets. The tavern was, according to 
Drake, "A somewhat noted resort. . . . When the Brit- 
ish officers were in Boston, they frequently made up 
skating parties for the suppers, and after exercising at 
the pond would ride over and partake of the good 
cheer of the Peacock." Washington himself was cited 
as a frequent visitor to the Peacock, and is said to have 
stopped there on his way to New York after the evacu- 
ation of Boston. The tavern maintained its historical 
importance even after the war, when Samuel Adams 
purchased it, used it as an official residence of sorts 
during his gubernatorial term, and then made it his 
summer residence until his death. 

After the American Revolution the western part of 



2 





Roxbury returned to its rural ways and its finarfcial 
battle with the First Church. By now, its increasing 
population had prompted the creation of a third par- 
ish, this one located at the meeting of Centre and 
South streets in Jamaica Plain, on the site of the pres- 
ent Unitarian Church. 

The original Weld land grant, General Washing- 
ton's fortification site, passed from Captain John Weld 
to his son, Joseph, and thence to five more generations 
of Welds. In 1806, the Welds sold part of the land to 
Benjamin Bussey, a native of Stoughton who was 
trained to be a tailor. After the Revolution, Bussey had 
set himself up in Dedham as a silversmith, then moved 



to Boston in 1 792, and as time passed, amassed a sub- 
stantial fortune. Bussey built a fine mansion on his new 
property in 181 5, a building which was recently razed. 
He willed his land to Harvard University with instruc- 
tions that it be used for the establishment of a "semi- 
nary for instruction in agriculture, gardening, and bot- 
any." The land, now the Arnold Arboretum, has be- 
come known world wide. 

Another institution which would bring West Rox- 
bury international attention had its beginnings in 
1840, when the "radical minister' and pastor of the 
Purchase Street Unitarian Church, Josiah Ripley, and 
his wife Sophia, came out from Boston to spend the 



3 



Willow Lane, i8go, was in the vicinity of the present day Pope Lumber Co. 



summer at a farm owned by their friends, Charles and 
Maria Ellis. The Ripleys and a number of their friends 
had been hurt by the severe depression of 1837. To- 
gether with fellow members of the Transcendental 
Club of Boston, they were looking for a place to live 
and work communally. 

The Brook Farm Institute of Agriculture and Edu- 
cation was planned as a relatively self-sufficient teach- 



ing, working, and literary community. Originally a 
dairy farm, the school established there was its most 
successful venture, gaining an international roster of 
students. In later years, the farmers expanded their ac- 
tivities to include writing and publishing their own 
magazine, The Harbinger. 

According to Lydia Butterfield, whose family lived 
on the farm from its beginning to the end, life at Brook 



4 



Farm was an idyllic existence. Recalling how daily 
chores were accomplished with one member reading 
aloud, Mrs. Butterfield wrote, "I honestly think I 
should have chosen washing as my life work if I could 
have been certain I might always do it to the accom- 
paniment of the rhymes of the poets." 

Although their days began at 5:00 or 6:00 in the 
morning and lasted until 10:00 at night, with most of 
the hours in between filled with work, life at Brook 
Farm, according to Mrs. Butterfield, was nonetheless 
extremely sociable: "Our musician afforded us many 
hours of pleasure, improvising upon the piano . . . Fre- 
quently there were talks or lectures by the members or 
by some visitor. Often we had dances in the large din- 
ing room and both young and old joined. Dancing, as 
carried on there, was innocent, inexpensive, and bene- 
ficial to all, and even the ministers joined heartily with 
us in the amusements." 

One of the ministers who frequently visited Brook 
Farm was the Reverend Theodore Parker, the noncon- 
formist Unitarian minister. While Reverend Parker 
had doubts about the success of the Brook Farm ven- 
ture, he supported the commune in their hopes and 
work. A visit to Reverend Parker's church on Sundays 
to hear his eloquent preaching became a regular part 
of the Sunday routine for many Brook Farmers. Rev- 
erend Parker and his church provided a vital link be- 
tween the small commune and the larger community 
of West Roxbury. A number of his parishioners sent 
their children to the Brook Farm school, and it was 
through participation in his church that commune 
members carried on commerce with the non-socialist 
farmers of the area. 

Some of the Brook Farm participants were less en- 
thusiastic than Reverend Parker or Mrs. Butterfield's 
family. Attracted by its idealism, Nathaniel Haw- 
thorne joined the group, but left after a brief stay, de- 
claring at his departure, '"I cannot endure being cham- 
bermaid to a cow." 

Hawthorne's withdrawal portended the end of the 



"noble experiment." The actual number of Brook 
Farmers never reached even half of the hundred the 
Ripleys had planned for. And, in the end, the farm be- 
came more of a financial burden than the Ripleys 
could carry. The area itself was not especially suited to 
agriculture and when a fire destroyed its major unfin- 
ished building in the spring of 1846, the end was near. 
The community had already put more than $7,000 in- 
to its three-story Phalanstery, built to house the entire 
community, and another 83,000 still was needed to 
complete the structure, leaving the group in very 
straitened circumstances. The fire left no choice what- 
soever. In 1848, having found farming a hard, unre- 
lenting business, the discouraged transcendentalists 
left West Roxbury. 

The farm was auctioned off to the town of Rox- 
bury, which used the land for a poorhouse. A local 
minister later acquired the property, and lent it to the 
Commonwealth for an army camp during the Civil 
War, when it was used by Colonel Robert Gould 
Shaw, Commander of the first all-black company in 
the Union Army. At war's end, a Lutheran immigrant 
bought the land and gave it in trust to the Lutheran 
Works of Mercy, stipulating that it be used for chil- 
dren. Thirty acres were set apart for a cemetery, whose 
proceeds would support this work. 

Every year, visitors arrive from all over the world 
to see for themselves the site of America's best known 
social experiment; every year they go away shocked at 
its present condition. The huge pile of Roxbury Pud- 
dingstone known as Pulpit Rock, where John Eliot 
preached to the Indians, sits among ramshackle build- 
ings and pastures gone to weed. After years of urging 
by members of the West Roxbury Historical Society, 
the Metropolitan District Commission has taken over 
Brook Farm, and promises to restore and preserve it 
"for conservation, watershed, historic, scenic and pas- 
sive recreation." 

Brook Farm was not the only cooperative agricul- 
tural endeavor in West Roxbury's history. Around 



5 



1902, a group of Jewish families moved to the area be- 
tween LaGrange and Grove streets, along Washington 
Street, and set up a cooperative farm. The area was_ 
mostly wilderness at the time, and one of the group's 
principal activities was raising cattle and horses. About 
ten or a dozen families took part, including about fifty 
people. However, the venture failed, and the group 
disbanded. "It was supposed to be an endeavor like 
Brook Farm," explained Rabbi Oscar L. Bookspan of 
Temple Hillel B'naith Torah on Corey Street. "What 
happened to those people no one seems to know — per- 
haps they returned to the West End of Boston where a 
Jewish community was already established." 

The collapse of Brook Farm was only part of the 
failure of the post-Enlightenment dream of a rural par- 
adise. By the 1850s, the realities of industrialization 
were already replacing the Jeffersonian ideals of the 
yeoman farmer. In 185 1 , the West Roxbury farmers 



made a last effort to retain the area's agricultural char- 
acter by establishing the town of West Roxbury as in- 
dependent of the more urban Roxbury. 

But independence was to be short-lived. The proc- 
ess of urbanization was slowed somewhat by the size of 
the original land grants, many of which remained in 
the same families for generations, and inaccessibility of 
the district to downtown Boston. But in 1856, the first 
horse-drawn streetcar line came out to West Roxbury, 
from Dudley Street Station in Roxbury. Lower Rox- 
bury had already been industrialized. The very afflu- 
ent had built up Roxbury Highlands, and the middle 
classes needed more land. At the same time, small 
farming in the area was becoming unprofitable due to 
the competition of cheaper food from the Midwest, 
brought by the railroads. 

The large farms of the area were gradually broken 
up, as developers began to build homes for middle- 



6 



class commuters near the rail lines. All along the trans- 
portation route, small businesses sprang up to serve the 
new commuter — including a livery stable-taxi service 
at Highland Station which brought commuters from 
the station to their doorsteps. By the 1870s, the dream 
of a rustic enclave near the city was gone forever. 

The old families of West Roxbury were old-line 
Yankee farmers, descendants of seventeenth -century 
English settlers. The newcomers were urban white-col- 
lar workers, children of immigrants, who saw their po- 
litical fortunes linked with those of their city cousins, 
and a city government which was coming under the 
control of the Irish and other more recent immigrants. 
A fiery political struggle culminated in West Roxbury's 
annexation to Boston in 1873. 

Real estate entrepreneurs were among the loudest 
supporters, and major benefactors, of annexation. In 
the late 1880s and 1890s, construction of middle-class 
homes burgeoned in West Roxbury, determining the 




Highland Station, c. igi$ 



dominant pattern of development for the district, the 
grid system, with streets laid out in a rectangular pat- 
tern. The concerns of West Roxbury residents became 
much the same as the concerns of many other city res- 
idents: the need for schools, library facilities, paved 
streets, and other public services. 

It was during this period of rapid growth that an 
institution characteristic of West Roxbury developed 
its strength: the neighborhood civic group. Residents 
of the area decided that they could best retain control 
over their own offices through political clubs, concern- 
ing themselves with important local issues. In the early 
1 900s, the fight was for improved transportation to the 
area and the Mt. Hope Citizens Association was instru- 
mental in successfully lobbying for a 5-cent fare to the 
Mt. Hope station. Their next fight, carefully chroni- 
cled in all the city's newspapers, was for the extension 
of the elevated train to Forest Hills. 

The residents found time for other diversions as 



7 




1 



Fz>£ Station 
on Centre Street 



well. A 1 914 program for the Home and School Asso- 
ciation of the John D. Philbrick School asks members 
to attend its regular meeting, at which, "By special ar- 
rangement with Thomas A. Edison, Inc., Orange, 
N.J., we are to be entertained by two of this 'Great 
Wizard's' inventions." The described evening prom- 
ised "a few delightful selections rendered by the Edison 
Diamond Disc Phonograph" as well as a selection from 
"Edison Moving Pictures by the Home Picture Ma- 
chine." 

The arrival of rail transportation meant goodbye 
to the horse-drawn streetcars. In 1847, four years be- 
fore incorporation, the railroad came to West Rox- 
bury. The Dedham branch railroad expanded to in- 
clude three stations serving West Roxbury. The rail- 
road replaced a horse-drawn coach which had been 
running since 1834. Richard Davis, editor of the Park- 
way Transcript, described the early days of the railroad 



in an article on Moses Boyd, conductor of the Dedham 
branch for 41 years. 

"Two trips to Boston were made daily, the best 
time that was made under the most favorable condi- 
tions being 45 minutes between the two points. Storms 
and unfavorable weather greatly lengthened this time 
and occasionally a heavy snowstorm would necessitate 
abandoning the train and going to the nearest station 
on foot. The train consisted of a small four-wheeled lo- 
comotive and two small box-like cars carrying about 
50 passengers each. The brakes were clumsy affairs. 
The brake-shoe was of wood and applied with the foot 
instead of hands." 

% 

Despite the rapid changes of suburbanization, West 
Roxbury continued to be a pleasant community. Small 
general stores were built at intersections of the main 
streets, but large houses along the streets still stood on 




substantial lots of land surrounded by picket fences. 
Horse-drawn wagons were everywhere — the butchers, 
long white coats over their street clothes, even made 
deliveries in horse-drawn carts, serving customers indi- 
vidually outside their homes. 

Milner Wiswall is a former dairyman whose life spam 
the transformation of West Roxbury from country area to met- 
ropolitan district. He was born on Westmount Avenue in i8g6, 
the son and grandson of deacons of the Congregational Church 
on Centre Street. Wiswall remembers when there were only three 
houses in the whole area from La Grange Street to the Brook- 
line-Newton line. In this still rural area, at the turn of the cen- 
tury, an important source of livelihood was the collection and 
sale of ice from local ponds. Ice from West Roxbury was ship- 
ped to distant places like India, to be exchanged for spices and 
silk. Wiswall reminisces about the business: 



"Years ago, all refrigeration was ice. There was a 
big business right here on the Charles River at the end 
of Gardner Street. Wagons went out to the ice houses 
where ice had been cut and stored from the Fresh Pond 
area. Thousands and thousands of tons of ice would be 
picked up by the wagons and delivered to West Rox- 
bury residents. A spur track went from the West Rox- 
bury Station right out to the ice house. In certain 
years, the engineer would take the train right up to the 
ice house and load up for shipment to Boston proper 
and to ships going overseas." 

■* 

In the days when Milner Wiswall was a boy, and horse-drawn 
wagons clattered along the dirt streets of West Roxbury, 
housing developments had not yet masked the physical charac- 
teristics of the area's landscape, and many sections of the dis- 
trict had names deriving from natural attributes: in a series of 



9 



articles in the Parkway Transcript 1931-33, Richard 
Davis chronicled nostalgic memories of West Roxbury. He re- 
called nicknames of particular places, many of which became 
lost as the population increased: 

"Washington Grove, a fine pine grove at the foot of 
Gardner Street, West Roxbury, where the ice houses 
have been located near Highland Street for long years, 
was used for picnics. It had a dancing platform and 
swings and other equipment used for picnic purposes 
years ago. This grove was reported to be active in the 
early eighties. Later the property was purchased for ice 
houses and the grove of trees cut down. This was in the 
early days called Cave Island. Adjoining the grove 
along the river bank was a section called Pine Stump, 
now used for a boat house by the Brookline pumping 
station and was one of the old swimming holes." 

1? 

"Swimming at 'Laudy,' Charles River, it was the 
vogue to throw a fellow's clothes, shoes, hat and all his 



belongings into deep water and to make him go out to 
save them if he was not a swimmer but a splasher and 
save himself from a lot of humiliation and delay in 
finding ways and means to get home. Marry rescues by 
unheard-of heroes occurred in those days." 

"Candle Hill, on the narrow section of Charles 
River at West Roxbury, divides first and second ponds 
travelling towards Newton. This was used by the boys 
for swimming purposes in the old days and derived its 
name from stories told by the early settlers of seeing 
lighted candles at night on the hill." 

% 

"Morse's Pond bank was between West Roxbury 
station and Spring Street. Saturday mornings the boys 
would line up on the stone walk bordering the railroad 
tracks. Mr. Morse had gold fish in this pond and al- 
lowed the boys to fish if the gold fish were returned to 
the pond. Morse pond property comprised the present 



10 




Spring Street 
«g** Bridge, c. i f )2<) 



coal yard of the Whittemore Coal Co., and extended 
across the railroad tracks in the rear of Temple Street 
for several hundred yards." 

"8 

"Bellevue Hill is reported to be 370 feet above sea 
level and is the highest point of land in this city. This 
plot is said to have been given to the city of Boston by 
William Blakemore. This hill is as high as the highest 
point of land in the state of Florida. The tower is the 
second structure of this sort erected for storage pur- 
poses, as a part of the Metropolitan Water System. The 
first structure was a much lower tower of rimmed con- 
ical top. In the '80s in the same spot was a wooden 
trestle used for observation purposes, which was about 
50 feet high. This hill was originally called Muddy 
Pond Hill." 

% 

"The old riverbank of the Codman Estate was in 
the woods off to the south of Cottage Avenue, at the 



rear of what is now St. Theresa Church. Boys would 
skate here in the winter and in the summer visit the 
cave on the shore of the old river and also pick blueber- 
ries. This basin was bounded by ledges and had many 
bullfrogs and turtles. Few fish were to be found in the 
pond." 

% 

Other nicknames derived not from geography, but 
from the people of the area. Because one of West Rox- 
bury's developers was an avid bird-watcher, he named 
the streets in his construction area after the eagle, 
pheasant, the bobolink, and even the humble sparrow. 
That section is still known as "Birdtown." Goethe and 
Schiller streets tell another story. The people who 
named their streets after these famous Teutonic writers 
were German families who came to West Roxbury and 
made their homes in what is now called "German- 
town." Even the tiny ponds near the present dump had 
individual titles. 



1 1 



Many citizens remember swimming at the "Gravelly," a beach 
on the Charles (where the M DC skating rink is now). As West 
Roxbury resident, Charles Feeney described it: 

"There was a place where you'd undress. For a 
penny you'd get soap and a towel. They had a raft with 
barrels. Everybody used to swim there." 

West Roxbury residents not only swam in the unpolluted 
Charles, but paddled canoes with family or sweetheart. Ellen 
Feeney, now President of the West Roxbury Historical So- 
ciety, sentimentally recalls the romantic summer nights of her 
girlhood: 

"The river would be filled — literally thousands of 
people. They'd have lanterns on canoes; they'd put old 
Victor phonographs on the shore — it was beautiful." 

Nathaniel Hasenfus, son of a local butcher, added 
with a twinkle in his eye: 

"And every summer we got a good sermon from 
Father Broderick not to take the girls under the 
bridge." 

Hasenfus, who became a sports champion in his 
Boston College days, and later wrote a history of sports 
at his alma mater, got his start on West Roxbury's 
small street teams. 

Mr. and Mrs. Feeney, and Mr. Hasenfus all speak 
nostalgically of the big picnics that enlivened West 
Roxbury summer weekends. The biggest was the an- 
nual Scots picnic at Caledonian Grove: 

"You'd wait for the train at ten in the morning — 
they'd get off the train at Spring Street Station with 
their bagpipes and walk to Caledonian Grove. Every- 
body would go to the Scots picnic. It was a really big 
one — races, football, everything." 

Another picnic was held every week in the summer 
on the grounds of the Martin Luther home: "All the 
German societies would come for sports and picnic. 
They'd have big barrels of beer with spiggots and hot 
dogs — it was wonderful." 



"8 

Certain personalities stood out as part of the character of the 
district in the old days. Anna Manning, the present archi- 
vist of the West Roxbury Historical Society, tells of characters 
of an earlier era: 

"Very regularly an Indian doctor appeared in Ros- 
lindale selling his concoctions, and I guess he was a 
medicine man. But the greatest fun of all was when Dr. 
Solomon's Vaudeville Troup came every summer to 
Speare Field. Speare Field is what we now call Billings 
Field. Mr. Speare kept a lumber yard in the corner of 
the field near the present Y.M.C.A. The troup set up 
their stage, lighted by gasoline torches and we all en- 
joyed the performers, singers, clowns, and all was free. 
At the end of the show, Dr. Solomon announced his 
pain killing tonic, $1.00 per bottle, and anyone who 
bought a bottle could have a tooth pulled free. Many 
took advantage of the offer, and we all stood around 
cheering the brave victim. Many games and contests 
were held at Speare Field but the most exciting of all 
was the annual bicycle racing and riding. They were 
not exactly Hell's Angels, but the spectators stood high 
on the hill out of harm's way." 

Mr. Wiswall remembers another of Mr. Speare's 
activities: "On the fourth of July, there was almost al- 
ways a bonfire and firecrackers at Billings Field. People 
didn't have the transportation they have today, and they 
made a big thing of celebrating at home. On Memorial 
Day, a man named Mr. Speare had a great big barge, 
and he charged ioi and you would leave the streetcar 
at Spring and Center and he took mobs of people over 
to St. Joseph's cemetery. But Decoration Day is being 
made less and less of all the time." 

Many of the West Roxbury people most vividly re- 
membered today are the priests, ministers, and rabbis 
who have guided the neighborhood's religious institu- 
tions. Churches have always played a central role in 
the West Roxbury community. 

Most of the early inhabitants of rural West Rox- 
bury were Protestant — Congregationalists and Unitar- 



[2 



Fast Day at Billings Field, April y, i88y 



ians. Many of the city people moving to the area in the 
late nineteenth century were Catholic, a large pro- 
portion of them Irish. The first Catholic church in 
West Roxbury was a one-story wooden building which 
burned to the ground on a cold winter night in 1874. 
Local residents donated land, pooled their friends and 
labor to build a new church on Spring Street. By 1895, 
West Roxbury's Catholic congregation had grown by 
such proportions that their church became an inde- 



pendent parish; St. Theresa's parish is still a keystone 
of the West Roxbury community. 

Monsignor Charles Finn is the former pastor of Holy 
Name Church. Still handsome and active at g6, he is the oldest 
priest in the Archdiocese of Boston and now lives at Regina 
Cleri in the West End of Boston. The kindly, gentle priest, 
who was brought up in Dedham, remembers the second St. The- 
resa's Church on Spring Street: 



"It was a combination school and church, very 
primitive and poor. But as new residents moved in, 
from the Mission Church parish, from All Saints 
Church in Jamaica Plain, some from South Boston and 
Dorchester, the parish grew. In 1930 the beautiful 
stone St. Theresa's was built and later the school and 
Monsignor Donohoe Hall. Much time and effort went 
into the development of the parish, with the men's and 
women's clubs contributing greatly to the accomplish- 
ment." 

In the early 1920s, the area now known as Holy 
Name Parish developed rapidly. Many old estates and 
farms were broken up and sold for home sites. It be- 
came evident that another church was needed some- 
where between St. Theresa's Church and Sacred 
Heart, in Roslindale, and so each parish gave part of 
its land area over to the new Holy Name Parish. "Nei- 
ther pastor would give up more than he had to," Mon- 
signor Finn recalls, "and, as a result, the lines are 
drawn rather strangely. The first pastor lived in an old 
farmhouse, on the site of Holy Name Hall. The lower 
church was finished in 1928, and the first services were 
held on Christmas Eve of that year." 

When Monsignor Finn came to Holy Name in 
1945, he was determined to finish the upper church. 
"I was very conscious of the fact that the people had 
done very good work for the two former pastors, and I 
found they were very willing to cooperate with me in 
the new work." Rather than saddle the parish with a 
huge debt, Monsignor Finn and the parishioners col- 
lected $800,000 and the work began. The Holy Name 
Society, the Bernadines and the Guild all cooperated 
to accomplish this goal. St. John Chrysostom, the new- 
est Roman Catholic church, is located on Washington 
Street near West Roxbury Parkway. 

Our Lady of the Annunciation Church, on the Vet- 
erans of Foreign Wars Highway, was recently relocated 
from the South End. The parishioners are mainly of 
Syrian/Lebanese descent, and have left their original 



homes in the South End over the last thirty years and 
settled in West Roxbury. 

IS 

Father George, son of a Lebanese immigrant, has been 
pastor of St. George's Syrian Church in the South End for 14 
years. Father George explains: 

"The Syrians and Lebanese, Greeks, Russians, Al- 
banians — anyone who professes to be of the Eastern 
Orthodox faith — normally attends his ethnic church, 
wherever it is located. The old Our Lady of Annuncia- 
tion Church was demolished as a result of urban re- 
newal action, and since there was no reason to rebuild 
in downtown Boston, the church was built where the 
majority of parishioners now lived." 

A similar choice now faces St. George's Syrian 
Church. This parish dates back to the turn of the cen- 
tury when the congregation, comprised mostly of new 
immigrants to America, worshipped in a loft on Edin- 
burough Street in downtown Boston. Father George 
talks of the evolution of the parish since 1914: "In 
1 9 14, approximately, they bought one of the, what we 
could call a tenement house, or a three-family house on 
Hudson Street . . . Father George Malouf came all the 
way from Lebanon to serve the parish at this location. 
He actually lived in the house; it was his home, but on 
the first floor was the church, and they stayed in that 
church until 1924, when they occupied the first build- 
ing they actually built. That was on Tyler Street which 
has since been taken by the Mass. turnpike extension. 
They stayed in that church 30 years, and in 1954, they 
occupied the present church. 

"The congregation was made up of immigrants — 
they all came from Syria — some of them were Turkish 
citizens although they were Syrian by birth. Lebanon 
only came into existence in the middle '40s, and, of 
course, St. George's is comprised mostly of people who 
come from present day Lebanon. But the original peo- 
ple who built the church in 1924 were all immigrants, 
and wanted to keep their ties with the Mother Church 



Monsignor Charles Finn at the groundbreaking for the Holy Name School, 1953 



15 



and worship the way they knew — they didn't want to 
become assimilated." 

But today, for the fourth time in less than 100 years, 
St. George's is in the process of another relocation. The 
construction of the new St. George's church on the old 
Arnold Estate will bring the church closer to the ma- 
jority of its population. Father George is confident that 
his church will not have to move again. "Our people 
now are property owners," he says, "they're not ten- 
ants of someone else; they take pride in their homes 
and I'm sure their homes will pass from father and 
mother to children." 

"« 

One of Father George's parishioners, Mrs. Rita Moussali, 
came to Boston's South End as a ij-year-old bride in ig22, 
knowing nobody but her husband, and with no knowledge of 
English, or of cooking. She adapted to her adopted country 
bravely and quickly, making friends through the church, learn- 
ing English and becoming a gourmet cook. Her husband, a 
Brooks Brothers tailor, bought a home in West Roxbury for her 
and their six children 30 years ago. Airs. Moussali explains 
the contrast between the South End and West Roxbury: 

"My husband had six children and wanted to get 
away from the South End. Coming here was like tak- 
ing us to the other side of the world. We thought we 
were way out in the country. It didn't make any differ- 
ence to me because I have my children all the time. I 
didn't have time to think, T like it, I don't like it.' I 
had one friend here, from the South End. She lived in 
the first house on Grant Street. She would come and 
visit me. I got to like it, to find it comfortable. I found 
some people here." 

°£ 

Rabbi Oscar Bookspan of Temple Beth Torah talks 
about his congregation: 

"In the latter part of the 1920s and early 1930s 
there were only three or four Jewish families living in 
the West Roxbury area. The first major Jewish migra- 
tion to West Roxbury took place after World War II, 
between 1946 and 1956. In 1948, a group of fifteen 



women formed an organization called 'The Parkway 
Jewish Women,' and solicited members from among 
the other Jewish families in the area. The organization 
was primarily a social group which its early members 
hoped to develop into a cultural group. Spurred by 
this example, the husbands of the area banded together 
a year later to form the Parkway Jewish Men's Club. 

"In 1950, both groups were well enough estab- 
lished to conduct their own High Holiday service, us- 
ing the facilities of the Unitarian Church. The Jewish 
families who lived in West Roxbury in those days were 
still affiliated with other congregations in their old 
neighborhoods — there were flourishing congregations 
in Roxbury, Mattapan, Brookline and Newton. About 
a year after they held their first service, a number of 
this group decided to provide Jewish education for 
their children; they organized a Hebrew School, using 
the facilities of the YWCA on Bellevue Street. 

"By 1953 they were able to purchase a piece of 
property on Corey Street — the Frawley home — and ren- 
ovate it to make it suitable for classrooms, and meeting 
rooms. A small sanctuary was built in the upper story, 
and the group incorporated as a Temple Congregation 
in about 1953 or '54 under the name Temple Beth 
Torah. 

"Another development was taking place then in 
Roxbury, Dorchester, and Mattapan. As the ethnic 
mix of these areas changed, a second migration of Jew- 
ish families began in the '60s. As a result, the Temple 
Beth Torah expanded to include over two hundred 
families. 

"In 1970, the Congregation Beth Hillel on Morton 
Street in Dorchester found that most of its members 
had moved from its area. A merger of both congrega- 
tions was effected, and the name was changed to Tem- 
ple Hillel B'nai Torah. 

"Today, the Jewish couples club, 100 couples 
strong, has become a potent force in the congregation. 
There are also two B'nai Brith groups — the AZA for 
boys and the BBC for girls. There is also a Boy Scout 



16 



The Highland Club on Centre and Corey Streets 



Troup, sponsored by the Brotherhood of the congre- 
gation." 

% 

West Roxbury has long been characterized by its 
active clubs and social organizations. Max Grossman 
noted that in 1934, there were over 160 clubs in West 
Roxbury: "If three natives are walking down Centre 
Street and one remarks, 'I hear that a new comet has 
just been located,' you can rest assured that a new as- 
tronomical club will be created within a fortnight." 
One of the oldest clubs was the Highland Club, in its 
ornate Victorian building on Centre Street. It spon- 
sored dances, plays and minstrel shows. Germantown 



had its Liederkranz Club for dancing and social func- 
tions, while four Canoe Clubs on the Charles served 
the summer interests of the area. Fifty-six years ago, a 
small group of young women college graduates formed 
a philanthropic organization, which they named The 
Harbinger Club, after Brook Farm's newspaper. Many of 
the original members are still active in Harbinger's 
cultural activities. 

Literary clubs have proliferated in West Roxbury, 
from the days of the nineteenth century "Reading 
Club." For fourteen years the Shakespeare Club, 
founded by Nat Hasenfus, conducted weekly Sunday 
night readings and produced a variety of Shakespeare's 



17 



The 20th anniversary of the West Roxbury Women s Club, igji 



works. All of the parishes have traditionally had active 
supportive organizations — the Theresians, the Bernar- 
dines, the Jewish Couples Club, Our Lady of the An- 
nunciation's teen club, and Unitarian and Congrega- 
tionalist organizations. One characteristic group grew 
out of the inspiration of a well-remembered music 
teacher, Mr. Fassnacht. The West Roxbury Concert 
Orchestra, known as "The Little Boston Pops Orches- 
tra," has been entertaining Boston residents with clas- 
sical and popular music since 1943. 



West Roxbury's clubs are reminiscent of the old 
country town that the district once was. But West Rox- 
bury is no longer removed from the city and is feeling 
the rapid changes which are affecting all urban areas. 

« 

Mary Ricketson, a lawyer with an extraordinary sense of 
social responsibility, first president of the Theresians, explains 
some of the changes that she has experienced since moving to 
West Roxbury in the late ig^os: 

"I came from Watertown and when we first came 



18 



to West Roxbury, it was more like a small tow n. When 
my mother passed away, for example, it was just like in 
the old days. Everybody brought in pies and cakes and 
baked hams. They don't do that anymore. West Rox- 
bury was like a small community — the Garden Club, 
the Women's Club. They all seemed to be working for 
the good of the community. We were more community 
minded when I first came — you see these little parks on 
the corners of streets; they're growing over w ith w ild 
trees and shrubs and all kinds of weeds. Neighborhoods 
would have gotten together and each one would have 
taken a week for cutting the grass and putting in a few 
shrubs. They wouldn't wait for the city to do it. 

"I sense an air of hopelessness in the young people. 
This makes me feel sad because they've given up the 
fight before they've even begun to fight. And I say, 
'Don't leave the city.' This is what happened in Phila- 
delphia and all the other big urban centers, and people 
aren't any better out in the suburbs. So I say to the 
young people, 'Don't leave Boston now.'" 

Rabbi Bookspan notes similar changes: 

"During the last twenty years, an important 
change has taken place in West Roxbury — a demo- 
graphic change. The community has gotten older. 
There aren't as many families with children in the 
area, and this cuts through all sectarian lines. Where the 
religious institutions had attuned their minds to serv- 
icing the young, they now have to think of service to 
the elderly. It would seem that the median age of 
church members has advanced about ten years. Ten or 
fifteen years ago, there were one or two nursing homes 
in the area; now the number is closer to ten or more. At 
the end of the '50s, there was one apartment house in 
West Roxbury — on the corner of March and Bellevue 
streets. Now there are many. The population of the 
area has doubled, largely by people who rent small 
apartments. Apartment buildings change the charac- 
ter of a neighborhood; people who own their own 



homes are part of the community — they have roots — 
but people who rent are more transient." 

Father George, like other citizens, is very con- 
cerned about the rising crime rate plaguing West 
Roxbury as all city areas. But he senses a stability in 
West Roxbury, a pride of home and commitment that 
will continue to characterize the area: 

"West Roxbury is an area of upper and middle 
class bourgeoisie, the French would say. I think it will 
always remain that way, at least for many years to 
come. You can't really be poor to live in West Rox- 
bury, but you don't have to be rich either. Once people 
come out here, it's a life investment. The lady we 
bought this house from was here forty years, and we 
don't intend to move. People have a great deal of pride 
of ownership or property and because of this pride they 
will maintain this general area of West Roxbury the 
way it is." 

West Roxbury, 1975, is a mature community, 
which has grown from country district to small town, 
to suburb, to an urban neighborhood. As Max Gross- 
man perceptively noted, "West Roxbury is a suburbia 
enveloped by the metropolis. It is a hometown which 
the larger city cannot engulf." 

c 

A young couple with two daughters, Al and Rosella 
O'Keefe were both brought up in West Roxbury and last 
year bought their own house on Dent Street. Their commitment 
to their hometown is representative of many West Roxbury citi- 
zens, and reflects the best hopes of the area. Rosella O'Keefe 
explains her attachment to the district: 

"I lived away from Boston for a number of years, 
and realized what a good place it was to live in. I 
didn't like downtown for living. I wanted a yard, a 
good house, a real neighborhood. I also wanted to be 
in touch with what was going on, to have the advan- 
tages of Boston without living downtown. Living in 
West Roxbury, I have both worlds — the quiet of subur- 
bia and the excitement of the city." 



Abner J. Nutter, Master of West Roxbury Schools 1857-88, on his 80th birthday 




' Boston Public Library 



ORIENT HEIGHTS 
BRANCH LIBRARY 



The Date Due Card in the pocket in- 
dicates the date on or before wh ch 
this book should be returned to toe 

PleaTe'do not remove cards from this 

pocket. 



BOSTON PUBLIC LIBRARY 



3 9999 02119 699 1 7 



v 



Project Staff 



Katie Kenneally, writer, project coordinator 
Barbara Clancy, co-writer 
Jan Coras h, photographic editor 
Kathleen Kilgore, Michael Ryan, copy editors 
Harron Ellenson, director Boston 200 
Michael and Winifred Bixler, typography 



ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS: This project is the result of the experience and insights of many West 
Roxbury residents. We would like to thank especially the West Roxbury Bicentennial Commit- 
tee, Mrs. Ellen Feeney, Chairperson, the West Roxbury Historical Society, Miss Martha Patter- 
son and staff of the West Roxbury branch, Boston Public Library, Mrs. Kathleen McCormick, 
and the following participants: Mrs. Marian Atwood, Rabbi Oscar L. Bookspan, Mrs. Anna 
Cataldo, Mrs. Marjorie Hager Dolan, Ms. Susan Donlan, Mr. Charles Feeney, Msgr. Charles 
Finn, Fr. Edward B. Flaherty, Fr. George George, Ms. Katherine Grayson, Mrs. Daniel Hor- 
gan, Mr. Nathaniel Hasenfus, Mrs. Anna Manning, Mrs. Rita Moussali, Ms. Paula O'Keefe, 
Ms. Rosella O'Keefe, Mrs. Helen Saunders Olsen, Mrs. Laurice Pagliaro, Mrs. Alice Pearson, 
Mr. Gerhard Rehder, Mrs. Mary Ricketson, Mrs. James Ryan, Mr. & Mrs. Clarence Tucker, 
Jean Weinshel and Mr. Milner Wiswall. 

PHOTO CREDITS: Richard Habecker, Boston Architectural Center, designer of the neighborhood 
exhibit; West Roxbury Historical Society, Mrs. Richard Bonney, President; and Mr. Richard Bonney. 

SPONSORS: The Boston 200 Neighborhood Histories Project was made possible through the sup- 
port of: The Blanchard Foundation, The Godfrey M. Hyams Trust, The Massachusetts Bicen- 
tennial Commission, Workingmens Co-operative Bank, and the people of the City of Boston. 



Boston enjoys an international reputation as the birthplace of our American 
Revolution. Today, as the nation celebrates its 200th anniversary, that struggle 
for freedom again draws attention to Boston. The heritage of Paul Revere, Sam 
Adams, Faneuil Hall and Bunker Hill still fire our romantic imaginations. 

But a heritage is more than a few great names or places — it is a culture, 
social history and, above all, it is people. Here in Boston, one of our most cher- 
ished traditions is a rich and varied neighborhood life. The history of our neigh- 
borhood communities is a fascinating and genuinely American story — a story 
of proud and ancient peoples and customs, preserved and at the same time 
transformed by the American urban experience. 

So to celebrate our nation's birthday we have undertaken to chronicle 
Boston's neighborhood histories. Compiled .largely from the oral accounts of 
living Bostonians, these histories capture in vivid detail the breadth and depth 
of our city's complex past. They remind us of the most important component 
of Boston's heritage — people, which is, after all,what the Bicentennial is all about. 

Kevin H. White, Mayor 




Boston 200 "